Red tape cuts and extra funding for apprenticeships welcomed – NECC

THE Government today delivered two positive announcements for businesses in the North East by launching a fresh assault on red tape and extra funding for SMEs to take on apprentices. However, it was warned that action must follow hot on the heels of its words.

 Speaking at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) annual conference, Chancellor George Osborne revealed he had just signed off a new round of funding that would make it easier for firms to support apprenticeship programmes. His coalition colleague and Business Secretary, Vince Cable, also unveiled a campaign to reduce the burden of legislation on businesses.

 The North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) welcomed the announcements and said it was keen to see the Government act swiftly to improve conditions for companies of all sizes.

 James Ramsbotham, NECC chief executive, said: “Additional funding to support businesses to take on apprentices is a very positive step. It is important that this help filters down to individual firms immediately so they can benefit sooner rather than later. Companies need to see the Chancellor’s words backed up by actions.”

 Alongside calling for more support for companies to benefit from apprentices, NECC has been lobbying hard for the Government to significantly reduce the red tape that stifles business growth in the UK.

 The Government used the BCC conference to launch its Red Tape Challenge inviting businesses to “rip up some of the 21,000 rules that are getting in their way”.

 Mr Ramsbotham commented: “Businesses have consistently seen more and more legislation heaped on them by subsequent governments and it is good that the Coalition is trying to address this problem. However, setting up a website and expecting businesses to do the work of identifying which rules to scrap is just adding to the burden. Senior politicians should be able to work in tandem with civil servants to strip out the deadwood from the statute book, particularly as we have repeatedly outlined areas that are unnecessarily crushing business growth. We are happy to help but it’s time that Mr Cable showed leadership to deal with this problem rather than launching a website.”

 The Government’s planning system took a battering from business leaders attending the conference who expressed dismay at the barriers placed in the way of successful companies looking to open new sites in the UK.

 Greggs managing director, Ken McMeikan, took part in a panel debate during which he highlighted the issues his company had endured in trying to get new sites off the ground.

 Mr McMeikan said that Greggs planned to open 80 new shops this year and that, in doing so, it was coming up against wildly differing operating practices across the scores of local authorities to which it has submitted planning applications.

 Mr McMeikan said the way they had to deal differently across authority boundaries even extended to areas such as payment where some councils requested cheques, others wanted credit card payments and some expected online payments. Each had different forms to fill in and there were wide variations on the procedures followed.

 He pointed out that 80 new stores was the equivalent to Tesco opening one supermarket and yet Greggs was facing up 80 times the amount of work. The net result was that it made it more difficult for smaller High Street shops to set up and encouraged a move to out of town shopping centres.

 Mr Ramsbotham said: “The situation faced by Greggs as it tries to grow is a classic example of why the UK’s planning system is in tatters. The system works against growth and is not fit for the 21st Century. The Government needs to overhaul the planning system and do it quickly if it is to see the level of growth that we so desperately need here in the UK.”

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